Watching humans develop. Seven Hills, NSW, Australia. 2010

A little while back, my friend Paul was talking to me about the latest drama he was having with one of his teenage sons. I thoughtlessly commented that I thought he was having so much trouble because he had spoilt his kids by trying to be their peer, rather than their parent. Paul smiled and replied to me, “that’s right, tell about how to raise kids now, when you don’t have any of your own, but know everything about it. Because if you have kids all that certainty and knowledge will disappear and you’ll realise that you haven’t got a clue”.

All around me, people I know are raising children, and when ever I visit them I feel like some sort of a low rent David Attenborough. Sitting aloof and feeling emotionally detached, watching their children as though they were animals on the Serengeti. Often when I see children around the two years old mark, I think about how they are at the point in their lives where they are on the cusp of superseding adult chimpanzees in intelligence.

When I look at very young children I sort of see them as little unreasoning animals that have immediate wants that have to be met without regard of anyone but themselves. For that reason, I never feel angry at them as they are screaming for something like food or attention. Such young children don’t have the developed intellect to reason or be reasoned with, therefore, it’s not like they’ve made a choice to “misbehave”, they’re just trying to communicate the only way they know how.

I always find it fascinating watching parents cope with crying children. There’s not many parents that aren’t immediately galvanised into some kind of action when their child cries. Every attempt is usually made to placate their little screamer. Food, attention, pleading, threats, distraction and just about anything that will quieten and pacify is tried. All the while, the parents are conscious of the fact that other people are watching them and judging their parenting skills.

Last week, my cousin Andrew (who I haven’t seen for twenty years) with his wife Midori (Green in Japanese), and child Sakura (which means Cherry Blossom) came to stay with Engogirl and I for a fortnight after fifteen months in Japan with Midori’s parents. Andrew is the brother I never had, and it was a real pleasure to catch up with him after so long, but that’s not what this post is about.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to observe a twenty month old child at close quarters. It’s been very interesting to watch the clash of cultures as different approaches to child rearing are applied. Midori, being Japanese is a very indulgent mother. It’s just the way the Japanese are. Japanese kids, from my (ignorant) western viewpoint,  are spoilt rotten until they are teenagers. The slightest little squeak they make is attended to, immediately.

Andrew on the other hand was the product of a very harsh, neglectful and abusive childhood and as such is very mindful about his duties as a father. Andrew has read fairly widely about child rearing and wants his daughter to have all the love and every opportunity that he never had, but Andrew also has a western attitude to discipline. Children will be made to understand their place in the world, which isn’t in the centre of it.

Both Midori and Andrew obviously love their child so much and each of them does what they think is best for Sakura. Midori caters to every need in an instant whereas Andrew tries to guide and educate. It’s like watching a struggle between the id and the super ego. On one hand there is the emotional response of Midori and the more rational approach of Andrew.

What I found interesting is that at twenty months old, Sakura is in transition from non-rational little animal into rational human. The animal part of Sakura is catered to by Midori and the developing rational part is appealed to by Andrew.

To paraphrase my friend Paul, I don’t have kids, so what do I know? In truth, when it comes to children, not much. I do find parents and young children absolutely marvellous to watch and think about though.

Everyone who met Sakura instantly loved her. Sakura is a total delight, so bright and lovely. A real little angel if there ever was one. Sure, she had her tantrums but they were few and far between and they were over fairly quickly, thanks to Midori’s Japanese placating mothering skills.

It was amazing to watch how quickly Sakura was starting to learn English and how well she responded to instructions. In short, it looked to me that Sakura was receiving the benefits of two cultures and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. A sort of cultural hybrid vigour, if you will.

Andrew and his family left for their home in Cairns in Queensland last Tuesday. Both Engogirl and I were surprised at how much we enjoyed their visit and how much we enjoyed having little Sakura around. Having said that, let me state the bleeding obvious, such young children sure do need a lot of attention and care.

On Friday night, Engogirl and I went to some friend’s house for dinner. Our friends also have very young children and both my wife and I found it quite interesting to watch undiluted cultural parenting skills. At first we both thought that the stricter western approach seemed right, but as the night wore on we both felt that Midori’s more indulgent responses coupled with Andrew’s rational instructions were more effective in getting the results they wanted.

10 thoughts on “Watching humans develop. Seven Hills, NSW, Australia. 2010”

  1. I just clicked on your portrait of your cousin. My goodness, it’s a beauty. Also, even then, you describe how difficult his childhood was and in your blog piece say that children were drawn to him and he was very good with them. I suspect that both parents guide and educate each in their own way, and that while Midori is more obviously indulgent, his emotional vulnerability must shine through his rational approach to his beautiful Sakura. Whatever the mix, if you Razzbuffnik, can coexist with a young child living under the same roof for a fortnight and still regard the child as bright and lovely, the parents are indeed doing something right!!

  2. Pat

    I think you’ve put your finger on a very interesting point when you commented on “emotional vulnerability”. I think so many of us make the mistake of trying to appear as invulnerable. We don’t fool anyone and it cause others to spend energy to get through the defences. So much wasted energy on the behalf of both parties.

    When I think about the irritation I feel around some children, I eventually find myself thinking about their parents and how they raised them. I try to think about why the child is acting out and what is really going on. As soon as the situation turns into an intellectual exercise I find myself being distracted away from my annoyance and transported and entertained by my thoughts.

    If it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve noticed that I get less comments and ytherefore presumably less readers on longer posts, I would’ve written much more on this subject.

  3. What a cute little girl. Mine are all long grown up now so many childhood parenting difficulties are more faded memories now. It drives me nuts when I am at a supermarket & there is a young child throwing a screaming tantrum because they can’t have what they want. Next time I’ll try to remember your view of them as little unreasoning animals then they mightn’t annoy me as much. I have always found it difficult to tolerate other peoples children, especially when they are badly behaved…

  4. Yes, it is interesting watching the variety of parenting skills — some much more effective than others. Unfortunately, some parents never progressed much beyond the stage of being “…unreasoning animals that have immediate wants that have to be met without regard of anyone but themselves.” Far too many, in fact. It seems to be an emerging cultural phenomenon.

  5. Tony

    Like I said in my post, I don’t have any kids so I’d say my opinion on the matter isn’t worth all that much.


    I think that people who kids, “happen to them”, hardly ever make good parents. To my mind parents who want their kids are more likely to do the right thing by them. I also think that so many of the wrong people have children. Have you seen the movie “Idiocracy”?

  6. Paprika and I don’t have child but I guess that’s no reason you should not have your own opinion about education, parenting skills and such…
    Discussing with Paprika I realised how different our education was and how different our vision about it is.
    I’ve read an interesting chapter recently in Bill Bryson’s book, At Home, about the notion of childhood, some shocking facts and how much we care nowadays about children while they were not really considered at the Victorian time…
    She’s so cute by the way and what a lovely name too.

  7. Razz, lots of love to you and Engogirl for a wonderful New Year! Many hugs n kisses to you both! xxxx

  8. Ross

    Your first comments reminds me of what a friend of mine likes to say. “I love kids, I just don’t think I could eat a whole one though”.


    I think you’re so right. Things have changed so much since the old days. I think that years ago, children were something that “happened” to parents, whereas today, many parents actually plan to have children and therefore care for them much more when they do have them.


    I had Christmas dinner at the out-laws this year, but I did have a feast for friends on Boxing day.


    Thanks for you kind wishes.

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